Brussels is a charming city whose Old Town is quite popular with travelers. Its attractions include numerous museums covering varied interests, trendy galleries and wonderful shopping at boutiques and quality chain stores. Our only caution – regardless of the forecast take an umbrella, because it rains in Brussels just about anytime of the year.
- The food in Brussels can be excellent and outstanding Belgian beers and ales are available throughout the city. For those of you who love desserts, we recommend concentrating on those than offered at upscale restaurants and sweet shops. Chocolate in various forms is a specialty of Brussels and Belgium.
- The variety of shops available in Brussels is out of this world. You will find a fantastic selection of high quality, stylish clothes – waiting to go home with you.
- The museum are of good quality and locally oriented, but with some pleasant surprises.
- Travel writers generally hope not to reveal too much of their own interests in their articles, but we must confess a love of chocolate and Brussels is a paradise for chocolate lovers. We cover the best “chocolatiers” in town in the article that follows. And if you would like to prove us wrong, well, you will just have to sample each shop to make sure – isn’t that a wonderful way to argue?
Tintin and Brussels
Steven Spielberg’s adaption of Tintin and the “Secret of the Unicorn” prompted great interest in Tintin on the part of young visitors. See this page from Visit Brussels for more information.
Also see our section on the Hergé Museum (Tintin’s creator) located in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium
Return to Best Places to Visit in Belgium
The tourist center of Brussels is the Grand Place (Grote Markt), one of the most beautiful town squares in Europe.
- Ornate buildings of incredible beauty surround the Grand Place, a large square in the center of Brussels. The impressive Hotel de Ville (City Hall)(1) is crowned with marvelous tower topped with a statue of St. Michael. Although attractive during the day time, the Hotel de Ville is simply stunning when illuminated (the architectural lighting is switched on shortly after sunset).
- Across the square from the City Hall is the equally impressive Maison du Roi (2) or King’s House as it is called, although it was never occupied by a king. This building is called the Broodhuis or Bread House. by locals, as a building was once located here that was used by bakers to sell their goods. Today the Maison du Roi houses a museum focused on the history of Brussels.
- Other sections of the Grand Place are composed of well preserved, ostentatiously decorated, guild houses, many now converted to offices. (3) (4).
- Other than taking a quick look at the buildings, and touring the museum (overpriced and underwhelming), there is little other sightseeing at the Grand Place, but it is a good place for a drink and, perhaps, a snack Also, the Grote Markt is “the” meeting place in Brussels, so be prepared for crowds throughout the day and night.
- The avenues that lead to the Grand Place are filled with touristy shops offering chocolate (5), lace, ceramics, antiques, and high quality, unique Christmas decorations .
- It is fairly hard to navigate directly towards or away from the square, as your traveling partners will likely zig-zag from one shop to the next. Take your time, these narrow lanes are made for wandering (and shopping).
- If your schedule is flexible, try to revisit the Grand Place at night to see the buildings illuminated. If you thought the square was beautiful during the day, you will astounded by the magnificence of its appearance at night.
A few blocks to the south of the Grand Place is the famous statue Manneken-Pis (6), a small, black marble statue of a young boy, who can best be described as “… taking a pee”.
- The Manneken-Pis is world-famous and has gained status as the tourist icon of Brussels. The small statue stands in a modest grotto on the corner of an otherwise unremarkable street. Perhaps the attraction is that the statue is said to represent the mischievous side of the citizens of Brussels.
- During holidays and on special occasions, the statue is dressed in seasonal garb. Yes, from time to time the Manneken-Pis wears clothes! In fact the Manneken-Pis has hundreds of outfits, many contributed by cities around the world, whose citizens hope that their outfit will be chosen to be modeled during one of the city’s many festivals.
- The statue has been stolen several times, once by French soldiers, but always has made it back home .
- Although there is much lore about the statue, you can hear most visitors ask, “Why is this statue so popular? It’s so small.”
To the east of the Grand Place are the Galleries Saint-Hubert, a historic, indoor shopping arcade that spans two blocks filled with upscale shops with attractive merchandise presented in a charming venue.
- If you enter this arcade, you will probably wind up buying a memento, as the products you will find here are a cut above and very enticing. You may find the chocolate shop irresistible.
- Next to the Galleries Saint Hubert, you will find the Rue des Bouchers filled with restaurants of every imaginable type (although seafood abounds). We think the prices are inflated because of the number of tourists, but the food here can be very good.
- Across from Saint Hubert is the Place Agora Pleinthat host a crafts market on weekends. The market is not large, but it is filled with a number of stalls with treasures that will surely appeal to the folks back home.
Following the Rue de Madeline towards the Royal Palace, you will encounter the Place de Albertine /Place de Musee/ Mont des Arts areas.
- Keep walking until your reach the wonderful sculpture garden that often features interesting exhibitions (7).
- On the east side of Mont des Arts you will find a whimsical clock (8) built into a portion of a building spanning the adjacent street.
- The clock is beautiful and the figures in its alcoves slowly animate. Its chimes have a great sound (even though the bells do not move)!.
Heading up the steps to the Museum Plein you will soon find yourself at the Musče des Instruments de Musique, the Musče Royaux des Beaux Arts-de Beligique, the Musée Magritte Museum, the Palais des Beaux-Arts, and, then, the Royal Palace and Royal Square.
- The museums contain interesting collections and deserve brief explorations. If you are interested in music, then the Music Museum is a must-see. Also, there is a great view of the city from the top floor of the building.
- In addition, in 2009, the Museum Plein added a museum dedicated to the work of the surrealist artist Magritte. If you admire Magritte, the Musée Magritte is the richest collection of his works in the world.
- At Konigsstraat 2-4 rue Royale, you will find BIP (Brussels Info Place) that is the official visitor centre of the Brussels Capital Region. Complete with an information desk, you can also: book tickets for concerts or shows in Brussels, purchase books, maps and post cards about brussels, and see an interactive exhibition on Brussels and the Capital Region. See the BIP website for more details.
- The Palace and the Palace Square (Koningsplein)are interesting but not compelling.
- To the left you will find the Parc de Bruxelles (lots of greenery and this is a good place to sit and enjoy the quiet).
- Follow the Rue de la Régence to Rue Boden and proceed down the hill to the Grand Sablon and its collection of interesting shops and signature restaurants.
- The Grand Sablon is full of antique shops and high-end art galleries. The square has an interesting flea market for antiques on most weekends. This area is a delight and a great place to spend an hour or two either shopping, browsing or at one of its fine restaurants.
- If you like desserts, stop at the Cafe Wittamer, or if you like chocolates (well, expensive chocolates), follow down the street to the Wittamer chocolate shop. Pierre Marcolini Chocolatier, on the opposite side of the street is also well worth a visit. You might also want to see the new Passion Chocolate stand in the NH Hotel.
- Notre Dame du Sablon, a beautiful church, stands next to the square. Tour to see its stained glass windows and interesting interior.
- Follow on down the hill to see one of Brussels older churches (Eglise de la Chapelle).
More Chocolate in Brussels
- Their locations are as follows:
- Wittamer’s -6/12/13 Place du Grand Sablon
- Marcolini’s – Rue des Minimes 1 (at the Grand Sablon)
- Mary Cocolatier – Rue Royal 73 The topic of chocolate and “the best chocolate” is a common one in Brussels. Wittamer, Marcolini(mentioned above) and Mary Chocolatier are three of the well-established Belgian chocolate specialists. You cannot go wrong buying chocolates at any of these shops and we think you will find their products superior to other shops in Brussels and, perhaps, anywhere!
- Their locations are as follows:
- A relatively new chocolatier in Brussels has attracted critical acclaim for the quality of its chocolates. Passion Chocolat (www.passionchocolat.be) is located at Avenue Louis Gribaumont 20 (1150 Bruxelles – Woluwe-Sainte-Pierre), a little outside of the city center. The shop is open Monday through Saturday from 10 to 6.
- In addition, Passion has opened a new shop on the Grand Sablon (located in the NH Hotel located at Rue Bodenbroek 2/4). The shop is open from Monday through Saturday from 10 to 7 and closes an hour earlier on Sunday.
- Finally, if you are not satisfied with eating chocolate and want to know more about its history, consider visiting the Museum of Cocoa and Chocolate, a three story townhouse devoted to describing everything there is to know about chocolate.
- It is located on Rue de lat Tęte d’Or, near the southwest corner of the Grand Place. Visit its web site for more information.
Comics in Brussels
Belgium and Brussels are famous for their comic book connections. Brussels in very fond of the character Tintin, although his creator’s museum is located in Louvain-la-Neuve, Belgium (a “new” university town about 30 KM southeast of Brussels). See this section of our guide to the best places to visit in Belgium for details on this excellent museum.
- Brussels, however, has its own “Belgian Comic Strip Center” located at 20 rue des Sables (Zandstraat).
- See the official Comic Strip Center website for more details on its exhibitions and operation.
The official tourism website of the city of Brussels is Visit Brussels. The website provides additional details on the best places to visit we recommend, as well as information on attractions that did not make our list.